Sharing knowledge, fighting fires

Southern Australia and Mediterranean Europe’s common problem: bushfires

Bushfires are becoming more intense and increasing their range—so European and Australian researchers have initiated a five-year joint project to combat the threat.

“New regions are becoming affected by recurrent fires,” says Associate Professor Marc Demange from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

“A critical problem is to train communities and responders in the new exposed regions.”

Marc is coordinating Australia’s participation in an EU-backed knowledge-sharing project called Geospatial based Environment for Optimisation Systems Addressing Fire Emergencies (GEO-SAFE).

“The severity and intensity of fires is changing, with fire seasons starting earlier and lasting longer,” says Professor Edwin Galea of the University of Greenwich in the UK, the project’s coordinator.

Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie RISE scheme, GEO-SAFE brings together expertise from 15 organisations across France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK and Australia.

The five-year project aims to build better tools for bushfire management. This includes better predictive mathematical models of wildfire spread and urban-scale evacuation, strategies for making land more resilient to fire, training tools, and maths-based decision methods for protecting lives and goods.

The strength of the collaboration comes from the differences in knowledge between Australia and Europe with regards to landscape, urban organisation, firefighting techniques and legal environment.

“The difference in timing of the fire season in Australia and Europe also facilitates the exchange between responders to bushfires,” Marc notes.

He has already hosted some 40 European researchers at RMIT as part of the huge undertaking.

While the focus of GEO-SAFE has been to initiate new research collaborations and enhance existing ones, the collaborations have also already inspired new research projects.

One such project is to combine current methods with historical fire management techniques used by traditional owners and farmers in Australia and Europe. Another is to develop large-scale evacuation models that cooperate with models of fire spread.

Banner image: Fire is a growing threat. Credit: Malcolm Paterson.